How to Paint a Mural - Complete Guide for Wall Painting

August 1, 2015

When you take a look at the career path of many established street artists working today you cannot help but notice that mural painting is one of the capital parts in their body of work. There is a point in the career of every street artist when he wants to take his artistry on the next level, and you can’t go bigger than trying your chances in the field of mural painting. For those emerging talents who aspire to enter the scene of street muralists, there are some serious things to consider regarding the mural painting techniques, tools, choice of the materials and the location. Let’s face it, mural painting is time-consuming and expensive work especially in large-scale projects. It is rarely done against the law and often requires permission, sometimes not so easily obtained.

But if you are a young artist, eager to do his first mural painting, you won’t let technical issues like these to get in your way. If there is a will there is a way and if you want to learn how to paint a mural maybe we can help you by introducing some essential tips you should keep in mind before you hit the streets packed only with your talent, good will, and ambition. In the next paragraphs, we are bringing the mastery of mural painting to you step-by-step, in a short preview of the main techniques, tools, materials, supplies and everything else you should know for your first mural project.

How to paint a mural - prepare site and wall design , use right brushes and acrylic paints , let them dry to achieve a painting you want
Vinie – Mural in Eauze, France. 2015

How to Paint a Mural Tips - Choose the Right Wall

There is no one specific or right tip on how to paint a mural, but some parts of the equation are essential. As mentioned earlier the right wall and good location for a mural are not easy to find. You can’t just spray some paint and run if required because you will be working on your masterpiece longer than you expect. In many cases, you will need permission for painting a mural from the owner of the building of the city officials, especially if you plan a large project in the public space area. You also want to make your piece visible to the public, because you don’t want to waste your precious time in making the monumental artwork that nobody is able to see. But the visibility opens up a question of the right neighborhood and there are always those local communities that are intolerable towards arts on their streets. Perhaps, one of the best ways to do your first mural is through participation in some of the festivals, as they are usually supported by the officials and the location for painting a mural is given to you on a plate. All you'll need are your good skills, great ideas and mural design that you like, and of course materials.

This is a guide on how to paint a mural - prepare site and wall design before, use acrylic paints and let them dry
Shepard Fairey creating a (smaller) mural in Detroit - Photo by Rob Widdis

Use Grid - The Easiest Way to Transfer Ideas on the Wall

When it comes to different ways of how to paint a mural or a wall picture, one of the easiest ways to transfer your design onto the large wall surface is by using a grid. Whether you are painting the wall or doing murals in stencil technique it comes really handy to split your sketch into smaller parts and do your work one step at the time. You don’t want to lose yourselves in a big picture. It takes more time to be sure, but better safe than sorry because when it comes to the large-scale projects the use of grid is the best way to ensure the perfection of your piece. You should leave your freehand painting for some other occasion or even proceed if you feel really confident about the level of your skillfulness. However, if you decide to go with the grid method, the first thing you need to do is to split your sketch into the grid squares in proportion to the wall and planned surface of your future mural. Then you should replicate the squares from your referential drawing into corresponding squares on the wall surface. After your picture is set you can erase the lines and you’re ready to paint and bring some color into your design. Another useful method for really large projects is the use of a professional projector, which can be costly, so you might skip this option for a while and consider acquiring a projector once again when you are well known and preferably well-off.

This is a complete guide on how to paint a mural or a wall picture - prepare site and wall design before, use acrylic paints and let them dry
Pixel Pancho and Vhils, 2013 - Lisbon

Next Step - Mural Techniques and Materials

And now let’s talk mural materials. If you are not Vhils and you do not share the same aspirations then you will be using paint in great amounts. But what paint should you use? You want your mural to be astonishing and not washed away on the first rainy day or transferred into a shadow of the original artwork once the sunlight has had its way with it. Well, there are several options when it comes to the paint you need. Unless you paint on the wall of your home, or home of your friend you will use resistant color paints. Most of the murals today are made in the oil-based or acrylic paint because these give long-lasting color effects when painting in the outdoor areas.

Useful Tip on How to Paint a Mural - Wall Priming

You will also need the prime paint, usually in white color, to prepare the wall and cover the surface before you even start painting your artwork. And the main thing to have in mind if you’re painting a large wall surface is that choosing the right paints is equally important as calculating the right amount. So once you like your choice of paint you are ready to leave home and create your painted masterpiece. But paint isn't the only thing you'll be using and there are additional tools that you simply must have.

How to paint a mural can be seen in an example of the artist Pastel - Mural for Milestone Project, Girona, Spain, 2015
Pastel - Mural for Milestone Project, Girona, Spain, 2015

Tools for Mural Painting You Don't Want to Forget

Once your budget is mostly spent on paint let’s see what else might come in handy. First of all, you need to have something to apply paint with and this is a choice which depends on your method of work and again the size of your project and surface of the wall. If you don’t go with the stenciled murals and spray paint you will definitely need good quality brushes, paint sprayer even rollers and roller extensions. You also shouldn’t forget ladders for reaching those inaccessible places, additional water and some markers or a small brush to highlight the details. It is better to start painting background and large areas of color first, and leaving your paint to dry to avoid blending of the separate colors. Once you finish painting your project, a coat of varnish or protective acrylic glaze might come in handy to secure the duration of your perfect mural.

How to paint a Mural or a wall picture for Avanguardie Urbane Festival
Roa - Mural for Avanguardie Urbane Festival in April 2014

Go Ahead and Paint a Mural!

In the end, if you are interested in doing your own murals you are probably already familiar with most of these steps. Mural painting is a demanding and time-consuming activity even for the veterans in this field, but some tips on how to paint a mural can make the practice of mural painting easier and more comfortable for those people who are new to the process. Finally, if you are willing to try even though it’s challenging and exhausting we say go forward, make your mark on the wall, cause with the right idea, good paints, patience and great effort the final product will be worth every single hour of your work.

Featured Image: Sam3 - Crono project in Lisbon 2013.
All images used for illustrative purposes.